When Klimt died unexpectedly of a stroke and pneumonia in 1918, the painting was still standing on an easel in his studio.
Sotheby’s, who are selling the painting on behalf of its current owners, nearly three decades after it last changed hands, said it was one of the finest works of art to be offered in Europe. It last sold for $11.6m in 1994.
The portrait shows an unnamed woman wearing a loose robe, baring her shoulder. She stands against a background of flowers and birds, highlighting Klimt’s fondness for Chinese and Japanese art and culture. The artist filled his home with Chinese ceramics and Japanese woodblock prints and had an extensive wardrobe of silk kimonos and Chinese robes.
“The way her kimono is slipping off her shoulder, the fan seems almost to have been put there to hide her bosom, this is clearly not someone’s daughter who has been sent to have her portrait painted. It is Klimt experimenting and pushing the boundaries,” Helena Newman, Sotheby’s worldwide head of impressionist and modern art, said.
From March 2021 to February 2022, Dame mit Fächer was the focus of an exhibition at Vienna’s Upper Belvedere Museum.
The portrait was acquired by Erwin Bohler, a close friend of Klimt, soon after the artist’s death. It is one of only a few Klimt portraits left to remain in private hands.
Last year, Klimt’s landscape painting Birch Forest sold for $104.6m (£83m). In 2008, his Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, dating to 1912, fetched $87.9m (£70m) in 2006.
“Dame mit Fächer is the last portrait Gustav Klimt completed before his untimely death, when he was still in his artistic prime and producing some of his most accomplished and experimental works,” Newman continued.
“Many of those works, certainly the portraits for which he is best known, were commissions. This, though, is something completely different – a technical tour de force, full of boundary-pushing experimentation, as well as a heartfelt ode to absolute beauty.
Roughly 1sq metre in size, Thomas Boyd-Bowman, head of impressionist and modern art evening sales at Sotheby’s, hailed the work’s detail. “The beauty and sensuality of the portrait lies in the detail,” he said. “The flecks of blue and pink which enliven the sitter’s skin, the feathery lines of her eyelashes and the pursed lips that give her face character.”
Dame mit Fächer (Lady with a Fan) will go up for auction at Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary evening auction on 27 June.